THE AIFF HAVE CONFIRMED the long-standing speculations that Sudeva FC will play in the I-League 2020-21 season as a direct-entry club.
The decision was made official at a virtual meeting of the AIFF's bid committee today. Not only Sudeva, Sreenidhi FC who plan to play out of Vishakhapatnam have also been granted a direct entry into I-League from next season onwards.
This is a major moment for Delhi and Andhra Pradesh / Telangana football as they have never had a club in I-League in the past.
While Indian Arrows and Real Kashmir FC have used Delhi as a home ground occasionally in the past, all Delhi had in the modern era were some clubs in 2nd Division like Hindustan FC and New Delhi Heroes, none of whom made it to the I-League. After ISL franchise Delhi Dynamos moved to Bhubaneswar and re-branded themselves as Odisha FC, Delhi were dealing with a dearth of representation at the national level and lacked an outlet for its local talent which were on display at the highly competitive state league. Sudeva, who have considered taking the corporate route to enter I-League for a while now, are expected to help solve both problems.
Shaji Prabhakaran, the President of Football Delhi, said in a statement to the press,
"It is indeed a red letter day in the history of football in Delhi that a grand old club from Delhi will be part of I-League. The significance of this one decision by AIFF is going to be immense in changing the face of football in the Capital City. I on behalf of the Excecutive Committee would like to extend heartfelt congratulations to Sudeva FC management and entire team for achieving this and giving Delhi an opportunity to celebrate and get inspired by the Committee work the club has undertaken to develop football in general and youth players in particular. I also take this opportunity to express my gratitude to AIFF leadership for granting Sudeva FC the opportunity to be part of I-League. We will work closely with Sudeva FC and extend all possible support to make the club successful in its journey. Executive Committee extends its best wishes to Sudeva FC".
For the football fans in Delhi the only would be the fact that they're not likely to be able to attend Sudeva's home matches at the Ambedkar Stadium before 2021-22 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile a similar dearth was visible in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana as well. After the glory days of Hyderabad Police, the region didn't produce many clubs who could compete at the highest levels of Indian football. In recent years Fateh Hyderabad played in 2nd Division League but they haven't managed to earn a promotion. In 2019, Hyderabad FC started playing in the ISL, but the new franchise is yet to set down its roots in the local football scene.
Sreenidhi, who have played many competitions in Hyderabad, have chosen to use Vishakhapatnam as their home city for the I-League. They have a year to prepare for their big arrival, and with their history of using local talent from Telangana and Andhra regions, it's likely to be a landmark moment for that part of the country when they finally make their debut.
AIFF's senior vice president and League Committee chairman Subrata Dutta said in a statement to the press,
"I on the behalf of AIFF, welcome Sudeva to the Hero I-League family. I wish them all the best and look forward to a competitive league. I would also like to congratulate and welcome Sreenidhi from the 2021-22 edition of the Hero I-League. With Sudeva FC joining the fray, we now have 12 teams competing in the next Hero I-League. Most significantly, we now have a representation from the Capital. Sreenidihi is also a well-organised professional club with good infrastructure and facilities. Their participation would naturally enrich the Hero I-League from 2021-22 onwards. Both the clubs have been contributing to the youth football development in a big way for some years.”
The I-League is expected to begin around January. The centralised venue for this season as well as any potential temporary format changes will be discussed in a meeting of the AIFF League Committee in the upcoming days.